Minor spoilers ahead.
I suspect everyone has at least one curmudgeon in their life–that grump, that sourpuss, that malcontent who seemed to emerge from the womb yelling, “Turn that damn music down!” In certain hipster circles, they may refer to it as Early Onset Grumpiness. Now, I’m not trying to throw shade at any particular person in my life, but when I asked my husband whether he’d consider driving a Saab if they still made them, I got a ten minute lecture about how Saabs were great cars until GM ruined them, which I’m pretty sure is an actual conversation that happens in this novel.
But I’m digressing before I even get started. A Man Called Ove is about a middle-aged man named. . .eh, never mind, you get it. . .who likes his routine. He does not like people breaking rules, such as driving in the residential area or leaving bicycles outside the proper storage space. He takes it upon himself to inspect his neighborhood every morning to make sure no infractions are occurring. He’s not exactly the life of the party, and that suits him fine.
At the start of the novel, Ove’s world order is in disarray due to two life-changing events. First his wife passes away, and six months later he is let go from his job. For a man like Ove, losing those two things leaves his life empty and meaningless, in spite of the satisfaction he gets from making sure people don’t flout parking regulations. With no purpose, he contemplates joining his wife.
This is where his pushy new neighbor Parvaneh, along with her husband and two young daughters–steps in. Parvaneh is the type of uninhibited, annoying person who can’t just let Ove be miserable. Through a combination of requests for favors and small acts of kindness, she and her family force their way into his life against his will and better judgment.
Between Ove’s half-hearted attempts at suicide, the author inserts flashbacks to how Ove met his wife Sonja, their courtship, and their life together. Sonja is the heart of the novel: her love is what has sustained Ove through personal tragedies and defined his self-worth through most of his adult life. Finding worthiness within himself is the central conflict of this novel.
The person who leant me this book described it as a “feel good story,” at which point I almost handed it back and said, “Never mind.” I’m not opposed to positive outcomes, but I dread saccharine gooeyness and wanted no part of that. To my bemusement, A Man Called Ove won me over, turning out to be one of the most charming tales I’ve encountered in a long while. It’s certainly not perfect–with Ove’s assistance, the problems of his growing number of acquaintances (and one cat) wrap up quite neatly with the type of expediency usually reserved for American sitcoms (for example, a homophobic father decides to accept his gay son after one visit from Ove). In spite of its flaws, this story delighted me.
Yes, it actually did make me feel good.